Congress Themes


The 9th WEEC (World Environmental Education Congress) will be held in Vancouver, Canada, in September 9-15 2017. The title of the congress will be Culturenvironment: Weaving new connections.

The International Organizing Committee is the WEEC Permanent Secretariat, based in Italy, the Local Organizing Committee is the Institute for Environmental Learning (IEL) a collaborative of researchers and practitioners committed to high quality environmental and sustainability learning in British Columbia. Their members come from a variety of institutions including universities, colleges, school districts, community groups, non-profit organizations, and provincial and regional governments.

In 2010 the Institute was granted status as a Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) by the United Nations University and in 2013, the Institute won an RCE award for its innovative Professional Development practices.

The IEL’s goal is to support community-based research on best practices for environmental education in both the formal and informal education sectors. The Institute also maintains relationships with other international and national networks including the Global RCE network, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM).

Vancouver wants to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. It is is already Canada’s greenest city, has the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any city in North America and is an industry-recognized front runner in green building, planning and technology.

In consideration of themes and programming for the 2017 congress, the local organizing committee envisions a broad and inclusive view of topics on environmental and sustainability education that will highlight the impact of urban ecosystems and local, place based initiatives that can be translated into practices on a global scale. Of particular interest is the interplay among cultural and environmental factors which are at play in a region such as British Columbia.

The Congress will pursue the following themes:

Early Childhood Education and EE

There is a growth of Early Childhood programs that explore the possibilities of taking children beyond the four walls and the play-yard fence. Challenging ideas of education, these programs are moving educators and children into the “larger community” (Thomas Berry) and encouraging educators to think about “place-relational pedagogies” (Manion and Lynch, 2016). Listening to the trees, getting to know the worms and weather of their local place, educators and children are appreciating and learning to move in their more-intimate spaces. In some communities, Indigenous worldviews and narratives are enriching the exploration of local spaces.

Our lives are woven into the place in which we live, work and play. Re-discovering our relationship to the living, breathing sensible world offers the possibility of new narratives. What narratives might these be? How can new narratives guide our work as educators? What narratives do children look for and how can we listen to the narratives that await us when we venture outside with children?

What can you share from your experience as a practitioner, researcher or inquirer to add to this discussion of how children and educators are moving outside to explore their local terrain and community, as well as themselves?

Place-based Education and Local Outdoor Learning

There is wealth of literature around the importance of connecting in/with/to places, particularly local outdoor places, for mental, physical, and socio-emtoinal health and wellbeing of individuals, communities, and societies; for the development and practice of a sustainability/environmental ethic; and as a means towards creating authentic, meaningful, and just learning experiences.

The Place-based Education and Local Outdoor Learning thread weaves together emergent research and practice from these two fields, inviting specific consideration of time spent outdoors (TSO) in relation to in-/non- and formal learning contexts, local curricular mandates, teacher education and professional development, health and wellbeing, ethics, pedagogy, and more. Contributions of place-based and local outdoor learning notions from various environmental education related fields are welcomed, for example: sustainability education, adventure education, health education, physical education, science education, social studies education, and others.

If the "average North American spends less than 10% of their life outdoors" (see Architecture and Green Design theme), then efforts being made to counter this unhealthy (in the broadest sense) trend, and increase TSO during learning experiences, are important to discuss. Through a sharing of our stories, potential for action (in an Arendtian sense) occurs. Through action, there emerges possibility to shift of our work and appreciate our labour.

Architecture and Green Design

In this thematic strand, participants are encouraged to share, discuss, and reflect on the relationship between sustainable architecture and environmental education.  Research suggests that the average North American spends less than 10% of their life outdoors; this highlights the importance of including the ‘built environment’ and the effect on its users when discussing environmental education.

Since the birth of the environmental movement in the last century, the architectural community has responded by taking the initiative to develop several Green building standards, which are focused on promoting the reduction of harmful effects on the environment and on human health in the design and construction of buildings.  These include: LEED, which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”; the Living Building Challenge, developed by the International Living Future Institute, which is committed to a transformation towards a socially and ecologically just world; and the WELL Building Standard, which focuses on the features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being. New concepts such as bio-mimicry, cradle to cradle and life cycle analysis are now integral to green design thinking.

How can environmental and sustainability education contribute to an intellectual engagement with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability that is inclusive of the built environment?

Arts Based Approaches in EE

Arts based environmental education involves an integrated interweaving of the arts, in their broadest sense, and awareness, knowledge and sensitivity to ecological ways of being and environmental activism.

Education (writ large) may include informal/ non-formal education spaces, community education and schooling at all levels.The arts in this context include fine and performing arts, practical arts, traditional and Indigenous arts and practices, and new transdisciplinary experimentation. Sculpture, painting, drawing, drama, music, performance, film and animation, design, dance, masks, fibre arts, carving, comix, poetry, and more may be included (and brought together) in arts-based approaches.

We hope to explore ways the arts and environmental awareness are mutually shaping and enriching, via reports on research, examples of programs, experiential workshops, participatory discussions seminars and hands-on making and doing.

Agriculture and Garden-Based Learning

Agriculture and gardening are fundamental ways in which we create and express our ‘culturenvironment.’  For thousands of years, humans have worked within their bioregional ecosystems to grow food to sustain themselves.  Various cultures and regions around the world have developed many diverse agricultural methods and types of gardens, imbued with cultural and social significance.  What can these teach us about environmental cycles, systems, community interactions, and sustainable agriculture?

Why do we cultivate land? What are the ecological ethics involved in choosing agriculture and gardens, in managing the earth?  Who benefits, and how?

This WEEC 2017 theme welcomes proposals that address these and similar questions.  We are also eager to accept proposals investigating: ways that agriculture and gardens foster community, among humans and between humans and the greater ecosystem; how agriculture and garden-based learning contribute to local food movements, issues of food security, or developing indigenous food sovereignty; novel methods and methodologies for (in)formal education based in gardens or agricultural settings, including school yard gardens; the effects of embodied, physical sensations of tending the soil and caring for plants; how we can understand and make meaning in garden or agricultural settings beyond the growing of food, such as exploring sensory, aesthetic, spiritual, or historical meanings.  As agriculture and garden-based learning is a broad, interdisciplinary theme, these are mere suggestions in a wide field of possibilities.

Global and Cultural Diversity in EE

This theme explores, celebrates, and challenges various cultural perspectives as they apply to socio-ecological systems and their specific influences on environmental education pedagogy. The principles of a multicultural EE include but are not limited to the following: it provides critique to ideologies and forces that oppress people and nature, it seeks transformation through research, imagination and action, it seeks to provide voice to marginalized and underrepresented populations. Many practitioners of Multicultural Environmental Education engage in self‐reflection to understand the forces and influences that shape their culture, race, politics which then impact environmental and social justice movements.

Urban Eco-systems

Urban environments and their associated ecological communities are distinct from natural ecosystems and can be considered as unique including both cultural and ecological components. As such, the study of urban ecology includes not only the description of the physical, chemical and biological aspects of a place and the response of species to urban circumstances, but also social issues related to the political and psychological forces that contribute a broader understanding of the ecology of place. Presentations in this theme of WEEC 2017 can include topics as diverse as indicator species, the value of a watershed approach to ecological restoration or the importance of “listening” to the history and social influences of a place.  There are also numerous opportunities in urban environmental education for student and community engagement through citizen science and environmental stewardship. We would like to hear examples of case studies, problem-based learning, field-work, lab projects, community collaborations and other approaches to environmental education that highlight how students can better understand and explore the unique nature of urban ecosystems.

Environmental Communication (and Uncertainty)

We are all communicators; our effectiveness at the craft is often a function of just how aware that we are that we are always communicating. The realm of environmental communications is very broad, with some practitioners using prose, sound and image meant to inspire and open new insights in audiences, while others apply a wide range of argumentation and attempts at persuasion and influence. Environmental communication researchers investigate the impact of diverse communication efforts, dissect a range of media, examine the way that governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations present themselves and their issues, theorize about the meaning and efficacy of approaches and outcomes, and experiment on different ways to convey messages and influence audiences.

We anticipate that this thread will be seeded with a range of topics that will be meaningful to and for practitioners and researchers alike.

Indigenous Knowledge and EE

This theme provides a forum to highlight the work of Indigenous people around the world who currently lead and contribute significantly to a range of initiatives in environmental education, activism, policy development, and research for the benefit of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike. In this context, many non-Indigenous people are also attempting to engage respectfully with Indigenous peoples in relation to the sharing and use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), development of educational programs, activism and advocacy in response to contemporary environmental issues, and research. Conscious of such dynamics, this theme is further informed by theoretical concepts such as decolonization, reconciliation, cultural revitalization, and self-determination in Canada and beyond.

Ethics Lead Learning and Sustainability

Description will be available shortly.

Social Responsibility and Agency/Activism

Pedagogy for social responsibility and agency aims to create learning conditions that develop greater learner awareness of socioeconomic context, power relations, political consciousness and opportunities for social action. Transformative learning pedagogical practices, including those developed in the context of consciousness-raising and women’s education in the 1970s, can be applied to contemporary challenges confronted in environmental education. Designing holistic, participatory and practical pedagogic strategies for increased agency is important for environmental education to overcome the persistent gap wherein awareness of environmental problems and adoption of ecocentric values are not clearly connected with possibilities for agency in the public realm. This conference theme invites presentations that focus on instructional practices designed to foster learning conditions that facilitate new social capacities to act on the basis of new environmental educational insights and values. Presenters are invited to submit papers that explore ways to make this shift from ecological knowledge to social action. Examples of such strategies include, but are not limited to: community as learning partner, applied practice, place based solutions, arts based inquiry, performance, interdisciplinary collaborations, action oriented leadership, dialogue and critical systems thinking.

Nature as Teacher / Nature as Researcher

Welcome to the Anthropocene, a new geological era that calls for a substantial re-thinking of the relationships between humans and between non-human others. Recent philosophical conversations such as posthumanism, ecophenomenology, ecosemiotics, new materialisms, object oriented ontology, and naïve realism, just to name a few, seek to explore this emerging world and are having an influence across diverse research fields (e.g. anthropology, geography, political science, natural science). It thus behooves education, in particular the environmental docket, to consider these conversations while exploring some of the implications for curriculum, pedagogy, and research. This strand seeks proposals that explore research and examinations/examples of practices that are actively engaged in re-thinking/re-engaging/re-negotiating the relationship. We are particularly interested in proposals that seek to actually bring their co-partners into the presentation. Being immersed in and engaging with the more-than-world as a necessary part of the presentation/conversation is highly encouraged.

Global Policy and Environmental Education

Communities, non-profit organizations, schools and universities may be affected by policies that are not always consistent with one another and offer both varying opportunities and challenges for addressing environment and sustainability in a meaningful way. This strand investigates existing and new policies and policy innovations that offer promise for enabling change for a more sustainable future, including educational institutions’ approaches and policies concerning curriculum, research, facilities operations, governance, and broader engagement with community and place.

Perspectives, Challenges and Innovation in Research

For this strand, presenters and participants are encouraged to share, reflect on and discuss the(ir) researching of environmental and sustainability education. A critical review of the research's focus, design and outcomes – what has worked, what has not, on what grounds, and with what implications for the field of ESE research - is strongly encouraged.